By now we all know that the FBS is the only sport in America that does not have a playoff system in place to decide a national champion. Instead, their post season is comprised of a proverbial smorgasbord of 34 bowl games, scattered throughout the nation that make most college football fans’ mouths salivate. There is not much that rivals the pageantry, tradition, and intensity of bowl season in college sports. However, critics have argued for years that the bowl system is not an adequate way to decide a national champion,but does that make bowls pointless or obsolete? No, bowls are no more pointless or obsolete than your least favorite food is at a buffet.
To say nobody cares about smaller bowls like the BBVA Compass Bowl or the GoDaddy.com Bowl is like me saying “Why does this buffet serve green peas? Nobody likes them.” It is a gross over exaggeration. I am trying to force my tastes and opinions upon the rest of the world, but there are people who love green peas so it matters to them.
Likewise the bowls matter certain people like the host cities, teams, and fans of the teams. For an example let’s look at this year’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Nationally the game had no relevance at all. It was just another bowl game in a long list of bowls that happens every year. Honestly it was the icky stuff on the buffet of the college football bowl season that most people did not want to eat.
Yet, Memphis was crawling with tourists from Nashville and Cincinnati, bringing in much needed revenue to a struggling economy. This is a common trait for most bowls, as they are often times one of the biggest events in the host city, bringing in tourism dollars for the host city. For evidence of this just look at Beale Street the weekend of the game, which was swamped with fans from Cincinnati and Nashville. Add to it the over 57,000 fans that packed the stadium to see Vanderbilt and Cincinnati play, and it is clear that the fans of the two schools involved cared about the bowl.
We know that the bowl games are important to the host cities and the fans of the two teams, but what about the players. They play 12 (sometimes 13) regular season games, so does one more game really matter to them? It certainly looked that way in all of the bowls this season, and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl was no different.
The players for both teams came out juiced and ready to play some intense football. You could tell during warm ups that these two teams were going to give it everything they could. Cincinnati missed the bowl season entirely last year, and was excited to partake in this year’s festivities. While this marked only the fifth time in their history that the Commodores have played in a bowl. This game resembled the atmosphere of a rivalry, not just another game. Both teams had something to prove, and it showed in the quality of play on the football field.
It was not just Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt, it was the speed of the SEC vs. the co-champion of the Big East. Team and (more importantly) conference pride was on the line at the Liberty Bowl, and pride is on the line in every other bowl as well. There are not enough games in the season between the AQ conferences so when two schools from two different AQ conferences face off it is a big deal. You could hear the anti-Big East chants as you were walking through Tiger Lane to the stadium. And at the end of the game, Bearcats fans were chanting “SEC sucks”. Not Vanderbilt sucks, but the entire conference sucks (I did not have the heart to tell Bearcats fans that they are co-champions of an AQ conference and they should beat the eighth place team in another conference.) This goes to show you that it is more than just another game on the schedule.
However, the nation does not care about the AutoZone Liberty Bowl anymore than I care about green peas (honestly the world would be a much better place without all peas). Unless you are a Bearcat or Commodore fan, you do not care that Isaiah Pead broke the record for rushing yards in a bowl game for Cincinnati, or that Casey Heyward tied the all-time interceptions record for Vanderbilt during the game. All the nation cares about are the big bowls with the big name schools. Sure the AutoZone Liberty Bowl was not the steak on the smorgasbord that is bowl season, but it was still a pretty good appetizer to get us ready for the BCS Championship Game.
CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.
-Photo by Justin Ford